Short Reviews – Coming of the Gods by Chester Whitehorn

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Coming of the Gods by Chester Whitehorn was featured in the Summer 1945 issue of Planet Stories.Planet Stories Logo

One of the many reasons why I’m doing Short Reviews is to share what stories from the pulps were like and what they were about, as many of these have never been collected or reprinted; I feel that it’s important because the on-going meme you hear about the pulps is how sexist, regressive, racist, anti-diversity and pro-colonialist they were and that could not be further from the truth! Coming of the Gods is another piece that shows how people who claim the pulps were just dumb action tripe and should be buried in favor of more ‘serious’ science fiction could not be more wrong.

Coming of the Gods is an interesting twist on the Planetary Romance in which the story is told not from the point of view of some heroic Earth-man arriving on a strange world to save the day but an alien primitive saving the hapless space pioneers from the mess that they inadvertently brought to his world.  Kinda like Tarzan, but it should be noted that the hero here is an indigenous African Martian.  Again, we have a classic pulp sci-fi story featuring an explicitly non-white protagonist exploring some interesting themes including human commonality and the institution of marriage.

On the jungle planet of Mars (yeah, that Mars), Ro has just returned from a long and dangerous journey to the far north.  He looks forward to rejoining his tribe and marrying his love, but he arrives to find that disaster has struck.  After rescuing his beloved Na from an Oan, one of the Martian Rat-men, Ro learns what befell his people.  In Ro’s absence, a magic flying sphere landed carrying four white-skinned beings; these visitors were able to communicate telepathically and befriended the Martians, but apparently were not too cautious about keeping their ray guns secure, because the Oan managed to get ahold of them, and the result was a massacre.

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Short Reviews – Cosmic Yo-Yo by Ross Rocklynne

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Cosmic Yo-Yo by Ross Rocklynne appeared in the Summer 1945 issue of Planet Stories.Planet Stories Logo

The Cosmic Yo-yo is a fairly short Blue-collar space romance by Ross Rocklynne.  This one was panned a bit in the letters to the editor in the following issue, partly because of its rather silly premise, but I actually really liked this one.

A couple of asteroid haulers have created a business out of convincing rich folks on Earth that it would be great to have asteroids in their back yard.  Truly the gift for someone who has everything!  Of course, they’ve also got rivals who’ve taken their idea and are in heated competition.

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Short Reviews – Assault on a City by Jack Vance

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Assault on a City by Jack Vance appeared in the 1974 collection Universe: 4.519QW9-HHhL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

I’m doing something a bit different this week; circumstances have kept me from having time to hit the pulp stack but having seen a few articles on the Sensor Sweep mentioning the rapey nature of some of Vance’s characters and the questioning of rape as a narrative device, it seemed strangely prescient that I just happened to find a collection over the weekend with this particular story in it. Assault on a City looks at what would happen when one of those dirty rotten no-good rapey protagonists tries his shtick on one of those smart, collected and brave pulp sci-fi girls.

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Short Reviews – Mists of Mars, by George A. Whittington

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Mists of Mars by George A. Whittington appeared in the Summer 1945 issue of Planet Stories.Planet Stories Logo

Whittington does a good deal better, I feel, with this Planetary Romance than with his space thriller A Battlefield in Black; with fewer characters, he’s able to bring more life to them without too much taken up by the Lt. Whatshisnames and Ensign The Other Guys.

Mars is plagued with murders in the mists.  Earth miners have been turning up missing only to be found dead out in the Martian deserts following incidents of strange mists enveloping regions of the planet.  Barry Williams, a space cop investigator type, has been sent by earth to look into the disappearances.

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Review: The Night and the Land by Matt Spencer

The Night and the LandA while back, I was sent a copy of Matt Spencer’s The Night and the Land, the first book of the Deschembine Trilogy. While it was a very entertaining book, I find even now that it is difficult to write about because of how different it is. And trust me, that’s a good thing.

The Night and the Land is not an easy work to pin down; it upends a lot of the tropes that would make it fit neatly in this or that category.

On the face of it, The Night and the Land is a story about a young man with a supernatural birthright coming into his powers, meeting and falling in love with a runaway girl from another supernatural clan at odds with his and whose parents and siblings are trying to bring her back into the fold.

The “coming of age” plot has certain hallmarks of the YA trend, but the book itself is a savage and brutal affair, even in its romance, that might appeal much more to male readers than modern YA’s target market demographic of women 18-35. It is Not Safe For Cool Wine Aunts.

The Night and the Land is “Urban Fantasy”, but the “Urban” is very small-town and New England Gothic. The setting is intimate and picturesque, and the town of Brattleboro, Vermont is as much a character as anyone else in the story.

What could easily have been framed as a simple “Vampires and Werewolves don’t mix” type story is actually rife with mysteries and depth of setting that prevents readers from settling into assumptions and cozy stereotypes of the archetypical modern urban fantasy. [The monsters are certainly not vampires and not exactly werewolves; which makes them that much more uncanny].

One of the most fascinating things about Spencer’s tale is that while the characters, both the “heroes” and the “villains”, are almost unforgivably vicious, and sometimes even cruel and murderous, I found myself deeply empathizing with them—even torn at the end as the story built towards its final showdown, hoping for a “draw” that would give everyone a chance down the road for redemption and reconciliation.

Any recommendation I might make for this can’t be given without some reservations: it’s not for the faint of heart—some folks may find the strong language and visceral imagery off-putting. And the violence is EXTREME [like Fist of the North Star meets Uzumaki extreme]. But The Night and the Land was absolutely one of the most enthralling books I’ve read this year.

Short Reviews – The Spider Men of Gharr by Wilbur Scott Peacock

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

The Spider Men of Gharr by Wilbur Scott Peacock was the featured cover piece for the Summer 1945 issue of Planet Stories.

Lura and Trent being attacked by a brok. A good example of why Planet Stories' readers were griping about Parkhurst and his poor composition.

Lura and Trent being attacked by a brok. A good example of why Planet Stories’ readers were griping about Parkhurst’s poor composition.

The Spider Men of Gharr is one of those pesky little editor-written stories that sometimes find themselves published in whatever magazine the author is an editor for.  Fortunately, Wilbur Peacock’s solid taste in science fiction carried over into his writing to produce, if not an exceptional, a workmanlike and enjoyable novelette.

The year is 2210: Earth has been invaded by a race of multi-armed indestructible cyclopean giants.  Kimball Trent, action scientist, has been working on a subterranean refuge where humanity can hide out from the alien invaders.  An accident while working on the hab-dome’s cooling systems cryogenically freezes Trent; he wakes up over 500 years later in 2735, lamenting that his project has gone unused, Earth is enslaved and humanity has surely fallen into barbarism.

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Short Reviews – Raiders of the Second Moon by Basil Wells (as Gene Ellerman)

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Raiders of the Second Moon by Basil Wells (as Gene Ellerman) appeared in the Summer 1945 issue of Planet Stories.

Of all the short stories I’ve read over the last year, Raiders of the Second Moon is by far one of my favorites.  I would go so far as to say it’s a perfect sword and planet pulp piece.  In its meagre ten pages, Raiders gives us an alien jungle world, a square-jawed American spaceman turned jungle barbarian, talking ape men, a devastatingly hot jungle huntress, a giant skull temple, blood for the blood god, and a Nazi mad scientist.  Even better, like Fritz Leiber’s Jewels in the Forest, Raiders of the Second Moon could easily be run as a tabletop adventure with just a couple of stat blocks.*

Captain Stephen Dietrich has crash-landed on Sekk, a secret jungle moon hidden in orbit on the far side of the moon we know, in pursuit of the evil Dr. Karl Von Mark.  The crash left Dietrich with amnesia, however.  He became friend to both the human-like Zurans and the ape-like Vasads, to whom he is known as Noork, a corruption of his first words after the crash: New York.

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